Friday, 31 July 2009


Well, rainy days seem to have come to stay!

It is absolutely lashing today - it almost feels like Ireland. I don't think I will be budging from the apartment today, glad now that i did my little bits of shopping yesterday.

I thought that this drypoint print most resembled the day that we see before us - rainy, wet and grey. This is a view out of the back window of my old house - I put in a balloon and the leaves on the wire - the wires are outside and the sort of abstract mountain in the centre. So in fact it has become something more than the view outside my window, but that is what an imagination is for!

The rain is such a pity though, as for me this is a very happy day - it is our anniversary! I can hardly believe it, but this day, two years ago my Darling Victor asked me if I would like to go with him to a concert. It was Richie Havens - who I had never heard of before, but who is now inextricably linked with my past as well as my future. If ever I meet him again I will shake his hand and thank him for the magic he created on that evening that led to two people falling in love and being more or less inseparable from that day onwards.

As we were both so old (hehehe!) we did not see much point in beating around the bush - we moved in together pretty quickly, throwing caution to the wind. We both agreed that the worst thing that could happen would be that it would not work out. But here we are still, so far so good.

That night was very romantic though. Vic really pulled out all the stops, even though I thought we were only going out as mates. He took me for a lovely meal and a bottle of wine at 'The Boqueria' in Cork. Then we made our way to 'Cypress Avenue for the Concert'. I was still trying to be just a mate, I bought my round of drinks etc etc. Twit! But later on in the evening and in the dark of the club, we kissed!

Well, that was it although I hasten to say that Vic put me in a cab home at the end of the night. It was all very proper and he is a gentleman and I did want to think things over too. It is difficult to think straight with your heart beating like a drum in your ears and with a few too many drinks swimming around your brain.

But obviously, even sober and cool in the morning light, I realised that this was a pretty good thing.

Oh Dear! I didn't mean to blab about all of that to all and sundry - and of course I could still delete it and just talk about the art and the rainy day. But where is the fun in that. This is, after all a blog, and for me that is a stream of consciousness, no matter what comes out. I just hope that I have not embarrassed anyone by this relevation - that anyone being Vic of course. But I don't think I have said anything untoward here. It was a good night and the start of a really good thing - and it just keeps on getting better and better.

Cheers Vic :-) x

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Draw, Draw, Draw!

I did this painting a long time ago - I still like it although it is bit primitive. I think it was the first painting I did where I consciously, unconsciously allowed the little creatures to come to the surface.

Initially it was going to be a painting of beach rocks and sea worn wood supports. I loved the way the wood was sculpted by the water and had become more wood-like than the wood ever was. And as i worked i realised that there were creatures there in the corner of my eye that just needed to be brought out and given life. And so i did.

I think I painted this in around '93 or '94. That was the time that i was preparing to go to college. I was very naive. I asked a couple of friends (who had been to art college) what i should do to prepare, they both told me the same thing - draw, draw and draw. So every day after work i did a drawing, some were good and some were bad and slowly I got together a body of work which was passable and could be turned into a portfolio.

But above all my confidence in my drawing improved no end. the routine of drawing is such a good exercise, you cannot help but improve. In fact, I later learned in college that someone (it is killing me because i can't remember which artist is was - possibly Rembrandt?) had said "everyone has 10,000 bad drawings in them' The trick therefore is to get them out as quick as possible - so draw, draw, draw!!

In fact, that is really what I should start to do again - a quick sketch first thing in the morning to get warmed up. If I did 10 quick sketches a day it would take me (quick calculation) 1,000 days or (quick calculation) 2.75 years (approx for all you mathematics nuts out there). that is doable :-)

That would certainly keep me busy!

Actually I started this very day by preparing source material to draw, but then the day took other turns as i wanted to glue the two sides of my medal (and the little extra one which i will post tomorrow - if you are good!) together, so i had to nip out to the Europris to try to get some superglue. Unfortunately they did not have any so i bought some olive oil, jasmine rice and some cotton buds instead. I know, I know but bear with me. Then I got home, had to have a spot of lunch and then darted out again - once more missing the sunshine so had to return for my umbrella, ella. This time I managed, after one abortive shop to find superglue and a tin of christmas gold spray paint as well. So now I have glued, sanded and sprayed the two new medals as well as spraying a previous one.

Of course, as I have already said - these are all just models for medals - which I will save until I can get them cast properly in bronze. But the gold spray paint helps you to view the way it might look when finished and smoothes out the little colour variations in the super-sculpey which distract from the overall medal surface.

Ok - i am going to stop now as the fumes from the spray paint have gone to my head, which is why I am rambling completely this evening.

I promise to be more lucid in the morning - and no spraying tomorrow!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Woman with Seeds in Her Hair


I have finished my newest medal.

Since i photographed it and photoshopped it to get it ready to post I have noticed one or two little things that need to be corrected and adjusted. But for all intents and purposes this medal is ready to go to press - so to speak.

I am very satisfied with this medal - it took a lot of work and my eyes are falling out of my head to be honest, but I think that all the little intricacies work together in a very pleasing balance of composition.

As you can see - the woman is in profile with her hair flying behind her in the wind. Because of the edge of the medal her hair has to turn around the rim of it. On the reverse of the medal that is where the real magic takes place as her hair is whipped up into a bit of a frenzy and thus releases the seeds which were cunningly concealed within her tresses.

For me the reverse side also resembles a landscape - so you can see that the seeds will conveniently end up where they belong and where they can take root to start the whole life cycle again.

Once again the hair turns the corner to confront its owner once more - and the life cycle is complete.

Hair is a very powerful symbol - one often charged with sexuality. I do not pretend to know all its permutations but I know from personal experience how hair affects the way people perceive you. I used to have very long, strong hair - it is a long time ago now. It got to be long enough so that I could sit on it.

It worked for me for quite some time and I know that men in my life found it very sexy but after a time (and at a certain age) two things happened.

First of all it just got to be a pain because it took a lot of care to keep it clean and brushed. Also it became a pain because strangers sometimes felt at liberty to come up behind me and touch or even stroke my hair - which I just found plain creepy!

And secondly I began to notice the comments of some of my girlfriends about the matter of how old you should be and still have long hair, as it was obviously seen as something for young/sexy girls not a middle aged woman. I also noticed a certain tinge of jealousy in their voices.

Actually there was another reason it stopped working for me which I really disliked. I became my hair. I was no longer Mary, with various interests and beliefs and a distinct personality. I was Mary with the long hair. I was defined by my hair

So I decided to get it cut.

Well, I cannot tell you the reaction I got when I went into my hairdresser to get it done. First of all the Hairdresser asked me was I sure - then she wielded her scissors and I almost sensed a slight look of victory in her face as she took the first half of its length off in one fell swoop. it was almost like she was taking my very strength and attractiveness with it.

Also - as she performed the snip all eyes in the salon turned on us and there was an almost audible collective gasp at the moment of contact.

I admit that I have used the term 'snip' intentionally as hair is also considered a symbol for the phallus. Think of the great thick plait of Rapunzel in the fairytale or medusa and her hair of snakes. Rapunzel has her plait cut off too and Medusa loses her head completely. The castration/weakening of Samson by Delilah is performed by the act of cutting off his hair. The list goes on.

I find it quite fascinating - it has so many little avenues of thought and discussion. People have very strong associations and opinions about hair.

So when I made this medal I wanted the hair to be very strong - it becomes an entity in itself. And suddenly when the woman confronts her hair as it comes around the edge of the medal it has become something of a powerful adversary as well.

I learned that other women fear the sexual potency of hair and some men go weak for it - but do they notice the woman attached to it?

I hope I have planted a seed of thought for you as you go about your day's business.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Nature Contained and Nature Escaping - or Knights and Dragons

Oh Dear!
Another rainy Stavanger day :-(
Everything is so wet and everywhere you go you get wet.
One small blessing is that I have no workmen outside crashing and banging, so it is a reasonably peaceful day except for all the excitement going on in this house.

I have been very busy today and very encouraged by the work that is really starting to grow beneath my fingers. I started a new medal late last week and I can't wait to finish it now and show it to you - it is still not ready but being me I already have the idea for my next medal fermenting in my brain. i won't tell you what it is about just yet, that will be a surprise. But I am really happy with the development at the moment.

Because of my lack of facilities, the medals I am making here are only a model - made from a wonderful modelling material which i discovered a few years back, called SuperSculpey. It has a really nice texture for getting fine detail and then when you have finished your medal you can bake it in the oven and it cures to a hard plastic which still has a bit of flexibility in it which works very well for me.

I make each medal in two halves - that is, the obverse and the reverse. After they are baked I glue the two sides together and gently sand the edges back to smooth them off. However, when they bake they tend to curl up at the edges but owing to that flexibility, when I glue the two sides together they can be bent back and cancel each other out - if you catch my drift!

I will take these medals with me when i move to Spain and the first thing I need to do there is find a good art supplies shop where I can buy some silicon rubber to make moulds with. Once I have moulds of the medals I can start casting and editioning and hopefully selling my new body of work. I will also have something new to take with me to the next BAMS conference (which is in Cardiff next year.)

I used the image above in one of my previous experimental medals (do your remember the ones that i cast in clear resin) - it was initially an idea for a large sculpture to be sited on a motorway somewhere in Ireland (i did not win that commission) - I cannot remember the location now. I rather liked the idea of nature escaping from the man made landscape. It contrasts the rather untidy, organic forms with a more angular, tidy form to represent how man tries to contain nature, but rarely succeeds.

I like that - I like the fact that nature will be the eventual winner over man's stupidity and shortsightedness. Unfortunately i will probably not be here either when the battle is all over.

But right now i am here and feeling very optimistic for my immediate future and the next phase of Mary at Large!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Demeter in the Underworld

Ugh! What a day!
we have jackhammers outside hammering the lintels out from above the windows.

It feels like the hammers are in my head - so like my drawing of Demeter I feel like diving into the earth to shield my ears and aching head from the noise.

Still, I think they may be on the last window of our apartment now so they might be moving on soon to the apartment next door.

Add to that the fact that it is pouring with rain now as well - it is not shaping up into a very good day. It is lucky i got in stuff yesterday for our dinner this evening.

This is one of those chymeric drawings of a woman who is turning into a plant of some sort. Not quite the literal story of Demeter but my own interpretation of what it might mean.

Oops! there goes the lintel!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Chrysalis - and a good teacher

A bronze sculpture that I made while in college - most of my bronzes were made in that time because we were so lucky to have an actual foundry in the college.

Did i ever tell you about the foundry?

Well, I really got into it quite by chance. When I started college I was amazingly ignorant of how it worked and how other things worked. In first year we were required to do a subsidiary subject, one in each term. I do not remember all the subjects I picked but when one of my first year tutors looked at my choices he asked me why I was not doing foundry, seeing as I was interested in sculpture. I was too timid to admit that I had no idea what it was but went along with his suggestion like a lamb.

When I got to the foundry I sort of found my niche. Also I met my tutor and friend Roger, who supported me and encouraged me throughout my college career in his really commonsense, down to earth, North of England sort of way. It was great. i spent 5 years in overalls and up to my elbows in plaster, but loved it. I am just a bit sorry that my college time had to come to an end and with it my opportunity to do any real foundry work. That said - it is quite possible that I might find a corner in my new garden in Spain for a small furnace and kiln and start collecting scrap metal :-)

Roger is a great tutor very down to earth and full of knowledge of his subject, as well as lots of other subjects too. I think I was lucky because his teaching style really suited the type of person I was and was trying to be - if that makes sense. What I mean by that is that I knew that person was inside me, but sometimes she just needed coaxing out.

Roger wouldn't let me wallow in self-pity or get too down in the dumps or stressed. Coming up to the end of year he would always tell me to put one foot in front of the other and look at what I had done/achieved and not what i still had left undone. And you know what? Everything always did get done in the end.

Some of his life's philosophies are still with me and I often think of him when I am rushing to get something done and getting stressed that there will not be time and i say to myself "one foot in front of the other Mary!" I actually find myself passing on that advice to others I meet now. That must be the mark of a truly great teacher - his teaching is being passed on and on.

In fact, now that I am reminiscing about my college days I also remember Roger giving myself and all the other foundry groupies long talks about everything foundry. He made a point of sharing every ounce of knowledge that he had at that time and spoke often about the importance of sharing knowledge, not just keeping it for yourself.

His is also a belief in constant learning - that is something that I hold very dear myself so did not need much persuading on that topic. Every time that I pop back to the college he is always up to something else with his students - pushing the boundaries and learning something new about casting or patination. He is never afraid to learn from his students either which I think is the mark of a very good teacher.

Well there you go reminiscences of the old college life and one particular tutor/friend. They were great years though. They were a real rite of passage for me and perhaps I managed to teach Roger something too!

If you are reading this Roger - did I?
P.S. sorry if I am making you blush! :-) But it is all true!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Twinning and the Lost Spider

When i was in art college i became fascinated by Jung's idea of the 'Collective Unconscious'

While there were many different people and artists in the college and round about the place in general, there were many common threads of work and ideas that sprang up at that time - and indeed still occur. Of course some would argue that one person started a trend which was spotted, or even just glimpsed by another who either purposely or inadvertently 'copied' that idea. And then someone else spotted it and copied it and so on until these threads wove themselves into a sort of commonly understood visual language.

Well that may be the case, but i prefer to believe that we are all linked somewhere way back by common experiences and developments (as Jung wrote about) which have led us to create works around these ancient ideas.

Now, I realise that I am limiting the collective unconscious to visual art and artists, but that is how I came to understand it and dwell on it in the first place. I think it is very apt because the artist demonstrates this idea very clearly. When an artist works he often does so unconsciously allowing ideas to flow in and flow out. What better way to tap into ancient programmed memories.

oh! i have a funny little red spider running around my keyboard! He would appear to be lost!

This drawing that i did was my way of showing the mind connection between two people - who are twins. In this instance they are making a further physical connection - hand to hand which shows their deeper commitment to one another.

I like the immediacy in this little doodle. It is not worked up into a large or full scale 'piece of art' but it is a little work of art that is more like a doodle in my sketch book. It is a nice way of getting ideas dealt with quickly as they come flooding in - if they are flooding in - and I was at that time inundated with ideas upon ideas. Very fruitful is the college life!

Other news - Last week saw a huge scaffolding going up around our building and this morning various men came and walked around, poking things and looking up and down the length and breadth of the building. And now they have just begun the powerwashing! Very noisy I must say, especially when they are working right against your window.

The whole block is getting an overhaul and a facelift. Cracks will be filled, gutters, lintels and sills will be replaced and obviously the whole thing is being washed down as i write. Finally, when everything has been attended to there will be a new coat of paint applied to the whole thing - and then we will be living in a very smart apartment both inside and out!

Friday, 17 July 2009

Fern Frond - my first new print!

I am really excited about this today!
It is my excuse for not getting round to posting yesterday. I was completely absorbed, and a bit under the hammer, with trying to get this hand painted linocut print completed. I made two other similar, handcoloured prints, as well - I was trying to work out the colours and what I want in the final Artist's Proof print.

You will see from this print, however, that it is not entirely even but I know what went wrong with it and there is nothing I can do until i can get my hands on a proper press (and also a thickener for my ink) to create the edition. Still I am really excited. I have been working towards my first new print for the whole year really, so problems and technicalities not withstanding, this is a really big deal for me.

The picture itself has been posted before, so you might recognise it. I did the original as a watercolour and pen and ink. I liked the original and thought that it had potential to make a really nice print. I think it does and I hope you think so too.

For me this is a huge step forward. As I have already said I been working towards making prints of this type for a long time now, but living here in Stavanger, in an apartment I have had to battle with limitations like getting supplies and getting access to tools and equipment - not to mention a lack of space. The last time Vic went home to the UK he struggled back with ink and rollers and a huge roll of gorgeous printing paper (Hahne Muehle - natural). He is very patient, waiting for weeks to see the results of his labours. But now he sees before him - albeit taking up even more table, couch and wall space - the fruit.

As we had another issue (about the new house) to deal with last night I have not yet had any feedback from him on the prints and what he thinks. So he too can now have a leisurely look at the print and we can discuss over dinner this evening! ;-)

What a relief! And that is a little pun as it is a 'relief' print hehehehe!


Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Earth Goddess Planting Seeds

Gardening has always been a huge part of my life. My mother, as you know already, was a gardener and from a certain time in my life - sometime in my late teens - I started to become more interested in what she was doing.

She enjoyed nothing better than showing off her garden at the end of the day - showing me the little treasures that were sprouting and growing and the areas she had cleared for future sowing and planting - and I became her audience. After the 'Grand Tour' we would then pour ourselves a gimlet (Gin and Roses Lime) and sit in the garden and chat about life and gardening.

I don't know now if she went through the same performance for my sisters or brother. I think it might have been mainly during the period of time when the rest of my siblings had left home - as i was the last.

I think I would still be at home now if I had not become pregnant with my son. I was a completely unambitious and a totally unworldly sort of person. I was musical and was sort of flirting with a career in music, but I was so naive about the realities of the hard work, determination and general dangers of that world that I would definitely have been swallowed up and spat out again on the scrap heap before too long.

Becoming pregnant was obviously not the most obvious solution and certainly not one I would advocate for everyone, but it worked for me. Suddenly I had a purpose in life and something that took the focus off myself and my petty little problems. When my son was born he was the one that became the centre of my little world. I would go so far as to say that i was reborn on the same day that he was.

As I was a single mum for the first seven years of his life I had to finally start to learn about hard work and responsibility and the strange workings of the outside world.

This picture is about all of that. It is about the garden and it is about fertility. This towering Earth Goddess with her large, capable hands is planting seeds deep down in the loam. She is almost digging halfway down into the centre of the Earth. It is my mother and it is me and it is every mother that ever was. You can tell that she is bound with the earth by her large hands buried in the soil and feet that stand square on the ground. She is strong and she is is fertile, she is focussed and gentle all at the same time. She plants and she protects and nurtures her young as they grow.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Queen Bee

This is the sort of thing I was making while in college.

I think you see how it is directly fed by all the life drawing that I was doing during that time, although I have taken the human body and made it into something else. In this instance some sort of angel, with wings, but also a little sting in her tail (toe)

It was made during that part of my life when I was vulnerable, but desperately trying to protect myself and depending on others for advice and support as well. But much as it was a difficult time those college years were some of the best of my life.

I had a wonderful Art College experience. I went back in 1995 as a mature student. I remained a student at the Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork for five years and during those years my life grew in a way that it had not for the previous 35 years of my life.

I was desperately insecure about myself and life in general. I felt completely overawed by the knowledge and talent of others, but had never admitted such a thing to others or even myself. I had played the part of the successful, artist, wife and mother for so long that I seemed to fool most of the people most of the time but worse than that I was completely fooling myself all of the time and as a result of course i could never progress and never hope to learn anything. The reasoning goes that if you already know everything there is nothing left to learn.

The greatest joy I achieved from that period was to be able to look at the world like a child once again. With incredible wonder and a yearning to learn everything from the bottom up. To do that you have to start by admitting that you are ignorant and that is hugely daunting at that stage of life. But I eventually let go in almost all quarters and really started learning and truly understanding things. The thing is, it is now an ongoing process and i am still addressing various parts of my life as I go along. But waking up each morning with a childlike sense of wonder is a great place to start. The sunrise is fresh everyday and each spring the new leaves unfurl as if they never had before in all the history of time. And yet that gentle repetition is also a wonderous thing. The cycles as they turn year in year out, week by week, month by month build up a fantastic pattern of life and i rejoice in that too.

Do you know something wonderful. I started this blog this morning with a complete other theme in mind. I was going to talk about my college life and the turmoil that it caused at that time. But somehow i got sidetracked in the most delightful way. More delightful because this morning when I woke up I had a heavy head and my heart was mournful too and then to compound things it was raining as well. And yet instead of talking about mournful things I have spoken here about hope and optimism. To turn your life around like that is truly a wonderful thing and today I have just done it.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Another Nude Study and a Good Omen

I have decided to finish the week with another nude study.

I think you can start to see my interest in the human figure. All the structures of flesh and muscle and bone created through the use of shade against light.

While this figure has a similarity with yesterday's post being a torso viewed from behind, I think you can start to see the way I am starting to play around with the figure as I have distorted the shoulder and hip - splaying them outwards. I have also accentuated the slimness of the waist in order to represent the femaleness of the figure.

While the lighting on this picture is quite attractive i have to admit that this is in fact the result of a poor photo which, try as i might, I could not cure. All my photoshop skills could not get rid of that strange central glow. But I will leave it up to you to interpret what it might mean now that it is there.

I like the way this figure almost becomes an abstract picture. When you start to look at it and let your eyes roam over the hills and hollows the subject matter starts to disappear until all you see are the dark shadows, contrasted with the highlights. And then suddenly the dark shadows almost burn right through the paper as if a match had been lit to it. The darkness in turn makes the white areas seem to jump out at you off the page.

Cutting off the head and legs also helps to make the figure less like a human figure and more like an abstract form.

The only thing that annoys me about this drawing is the elbow. i cannot imagine what I was trying to do with that, but it just looks plain wrong!

On a very happy note (and a completely different subject) I had a very strange dream last night. Very vividly I remember sitting up in bed and seeing a large, bright red butterfly flying over the bed. I actually think I did sit up and point and say something about it - I believe I was overwhelmed by its great beauty and mystical qualities. In fact I know that I woke poor Vic, but then I simply lay down and went back to sleep. But, and this is very fortuitous, I had a look at butterfly symbolism this morning and discovered that a red butterfly represents good health. So perhaps the red butterfly flying over our bed in the middle of the night will bless us both with good health for some time to come.

And so I will leave you now and wish you a very happy weekend with lots of good things. A red butterfly for all

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Nude Study

When I was in college I was lucky enough to be able to tap into many life drawing sessions that were going on - some during my own studio time, some at lunchtimes and sometimes just at random other times.

I loved it! and I hated it! It is so difficult to do it well! Though of course there are some people who are soooo talented that they just breeze through it all without ever tearing their hair out. I found it very difficult, very challenging but so rewarding when something went right and when you learned something new about the human body that creates such a beautiful form or line.

As you can see from this drawing I am most concerned with volume and form. I look and look at the model until I start to see slight shadows that define the form of the body and the muscles and bones beneath the skin.

Now of course, i could have used charcoal (which of course i do from time to time also) which makes great shadows and wonderful dramatic shadings and forms with good strong dark and smokey greys on crisp white paper. I, however, prefer to use this method of drawing, which is using a fine pen with ink. This one I think is done with an instant ink pen - as in I do not have to load it with ink, but some drawings done with a dip pen do make wonderful sort of jerky lines that are non uniform and come and go and ebb and flow and sometimes make great black blobs of ink! But if you remember me talking about the 'happy accident' you will recall that it can in fact enhance the finished drawings. Sometimes though it can ruin it!

With this instant pen you get a much more uniform line but you can just keep drawing and drawing without running out of ink (well of course the pens do run out and you have to throw them away and get a new one in) and you can do those wonderful hatching and cross hatching lines that I so adore. It is a small bit anal I must admit, but I love the rhythm of working this way and discovering new shadows, as I mentioned above, as you work and work the surface of the paper.

The nude itself becomes nothing more than a slab of meat - if that does not sound too rude, but you do stop noticing that it is a naked body as you become obsessed with the lines, the forms and the volumes.

The importance of life drawing is manifold. For me especially I find that by drawing so much all the time I absorb what a body looks like and how it works - By 'copying' from life, if you will, the information passes into my brain in a subconscious way and then when I start to do a sculpture from out of my head all that information comes out - sometimes it becomes warped or spliced with other forms, nuts or leaves or whatever I am fascinated with at the time, but there are those nice volumes and forms to draw on. It is great and makes the work more interesting even if it is an abstracted or distorted piece.

So those are a few notes on Life Drawing for you and I hope you enjoy the drawing too.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Madonna of the Hedgerow

This is still one of my favourite sculptures of all time. Of my own of course - there are many other fabulous sculptures by some of my favourite sculptors like Michelangelo, Rodin or Ron Muek for instance.

My madonna was inspired by nature as usual. Although she is based on the human figure I have taken the liberty of distorting her body into an impossible contortion. Things are not real and not what they appear to be. Her toes twist into briars which in turn twist back into her arms.

She was made at a time in my life when i was very vulnerable and very twisted into knots. Very vulnerable because I was so twisted up. She has a very soft and tender underbelly and is, in a very awkward way, trying to protect herself. The skin on her back is a lot tougher and she has a strong backbone. I made her back curved to complete the circle.

A circle is a very strong shape - so perhaps in the end she will not fare too badly even though she is a bit screwed up at the present time.

The thorns of course give great protection - naturally, but that does not need explanation.

This sculpture also finds a source in fairytales - knights and dragons and princesses in towers.

I made the figure from clay, which fired to a nice sort of pale buff colour and then when it was fired I stained it with watercolours, which was a wonderful way to give layers of colours. I enhanced the pinks in the clay to create the vulnerability of the figure. There are some lovely sap greens in there as well but they don't show up in this photo unfortunately so you will have to take my word for that.

The thorns are cast in bronze and add that extra edge to the fighting spirit of the piece.

Of course i managed to get through that difficult patch in my life - I am here right now, am I not? And a better and stronger person because of some of those hardships. There is nothing more forming in life than to go through some adversity. But boy! Did it hurt at the time!

Monday, 6 July 2009

You can never have too many Mushrooms!

For a person who loves mushrooms as much as I do it is remarkable that this is probably the only drawing I have ever made of one.

This is simply a pencil sketch and taken from an old sketchbook - as you can see from the date it was drawn in 1996.

I think that it is reasonable study of a mushroom, with reasonable form and shading and also an artistic flair that turns it into something a bit more flowing and beautiful than just any old mushroom.

I like the line across the top of the cap which shows the flow of that form. I also like the base of the stem. I like the hollow that is indicated and the peeling skin of the lower stem. It sort of takes on a bit of a life of its own. I enjoy that. I enjoy animating what is ordinarily thought of as an inanimate object.

But mushrooms for me are more than just beautiful fruits. They are totally yummy too! Hardly a day goes by that i don't eat mushrooms - usually fried in olive oil and bit of butter, seasoned gently with a little salt and a good dollop of black pepper. You cannot really improve on that. i admit to being a bit of a philistine as I am quite happy with the ordinary white champignon mushrooms that can be bought in any supermarket. Although i also like the flat black mushrooms, black because they go black when you cook them and turn the juices black as well. I am also very happy with brown button mushrooms. I have not experimented much with the Chantrelles, Shiitakes and other more exotic varieties, mainly because of the cost of these things especially in this country. But at least I have somewhere still to go!

I believe that this love of mushrooms is partly a cultural element, which is inherited through my Eastern European heritage. I remember as a teenager going mushrooming with my father and some of his other Russian friends. I do not remember the names of the woods which we visited in Southern Germany but i do remember the stillness beneath the trees and the wonderful smell of mould and decay. I remember the sounds of the twigs breaking beneath my feet and the sudden brightness of the sun as I walked into a clearing. I remember my father warning us children not to stray to far from him - to always be in earshot so that we would not get lost.

We all carried little baskets and my father had a special knife for cutting the mushrooms. He taught me never to pull them out of the ground but to always cut them so that you did not destroy the delicate root system and thereby hinder development of the mushrooms spreading and continuing to thrive from year to year. He also explained that the basket was important because the holes in it allowed the spores of the collected mushrooms to spread as you walked. This also aided the new sewing of mushrooms for the future.

He was very knowledgeable on which mushrooms were edible or not, examining each one closely as he cut it and put it into his basket. Any that he was not quite sure about he would bring home and then spend what seemed like hours poring over his mushroom encyclopedia. Because he was long sighted this entailed propping his glasses up on his forehead while he examined them. Peering at the gills, stem, ring and cap in close detail. If he managed to make a positive ID and could declare the mushroom safe to eat it went in the pot. If he was in any doubt, it went in the bin. He was quite right to do this.

We were close friends with another family who used to go mushrooming a lot and they must have got careless one day because they all had to be carted off in the middle of the night to have their stomachs pumped after eating a tasty mushroom stew!

Himself and my mother then decided what they were going to do with the mushrooms. Some would be fried, some stewed and some were pickled and put into jars for later use. These were my least favourite because when pickled they developed a rather slimy texture and there were also always a few pine needles that found their way into the jar which had to be picked out before eating.

The biggest regret I have is not paying more attention to my father when he was examining and deciding which mushrooms were edible. My knowledge now is very small on this subject, in addition I do not go mushrooming now either so I am not likely to learn any time soon. Like so many other busy people nowadays I buy the less tasty, but less risky supermarket varieties.

And on that note - I think I could do with some nice breakfast mushrooms!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Pears in a Bowl

I was debating with myself what image I would choose to finish off the week.
So, torn between mushrooms and nudes, drawing and colour, sculpture and print, in the end I chose the last of those: another print.

As I explained yesterday something about the printing process I wanted to continue with that theme. I don't think I need to reiterate the fact that I love the printing process as well as the results of that process.

Yesterday I gave you an example of an Intaglio print. Today I display a Planar print.

What is that sort of a print you may ask? Well under that process are included such popular methods as silkscreen, lithograph and this Monotype or Monoprint. These methods do not print from a groove or from a raised edge, but are printed in a way that is on a level. I don't really know how much better to explain it really, but perhaps you might start to understand as I explain what I have done here.

As the name Monotype suggests you can only make one print from each plate, so it resembles more of a drawing or painting than what is usually thought of about a print (being a creator of multiples).

Monotypes can also be made in colour but this one just uses black and white.

The method that I used for this print was to roll black ink thinly onto a glass plate. Next I placed a piece of paper carefully and lightly onto the wet ink. I then drew in pencil directly onto the back of the paper, pressing down firmly with the tip as I worked. You do have to work quite quickly with this type of print to get an even pressure and to work before the ink dries. but that is why you get a really nice spontaneous sort of picture as a result. it is great for doing studies such as this one, because it is original and, as a study, it might not succeed, but it is so quick to do that you can always just start again if it goes wrong.

You could of course also draw with your finger or a stiff brush or even use stamps or textural materials to make different marks. The useful thing about a pencil that is good is that you can see what you have done of course - the other way you are working sort of blind. But that in itself can be quite exciting!

The really nice aspect of this technique is that you inadvertently pick up a certain amount of texture onto the paper where it lightly rests on the inked glass. that gives the finished print its character. Also very sweet about this technique is the fact that the print is the same way around as it is drawn so you don't have to try and work out your design in reverse.

Another simple method of monotype is to simply paint your image with inks directly onto the glass plate. Lay your paper on top and rub the back of the paper either with a baren, the back of a wooden spoon or even your hand - see which works best for you and for what you want to achieve. Obviously that will give you a reversed image of what you have painted so think about that. But it does give a really nice painterly sort of image.

Well, that is that for today. I hope you are enjoying learning something about the printing process as much as I enjoy talking about it. It is certainly one of my newer passions so watch this space!

Thursday, 2 July 2009


I wanted to post a bit earlier today but was running low on good images in JPEG format to upload here - and without a picture to get the mind wandering I just wouldn't know where else to begin.

This is a drypoint print. It was taken from a simple study of curling leaves but the technique (in my opinion) has enhanced the delicate line image and turned it into something new.
I love prints, from the humble linocut right through to my favourite - the Mezzotint! Mmmmmm! I love Mezzotint

That said - drypoint is pretty cool too.

A drypoint print is an Intaglio print.

What that means is it is a print that is printed from the groove of a plate as opposed to a Relief print, such as a woodblock print - A woodblock print is printed from the area that is left after cutting out. Do I make sense? Well let me try to simplify it.

An Intaglio print lends itself perfectly to line drawing - and usually very fine line drawing at that, because you are not drawing with a pen, but something much finer, like a knife or a scriber of some description. You need to cut a line into the 'plate' and the print is taken from that line.

When you are doing a woodcut or linocut you print from the area that is left behind after cutting out. So you not only have to think in reverse (that is usually the way with a print - except for silkscreen and digital - but that is another kettle of fish altogether) but you also have to think in reverse black and white - unless you are doing a multi colour linocut/woodblock print and that really is another blog altogether - so I am not going to even go there right now. Think black and white! So with a linocut/woodblock print you have to cut out the areas that you wish to remain white - this form of printing lends itself better to larger areas of black and white, they are usually much bolder. Great for Chiaroscuro (look that up if you don't know)

But really the best way to understand print is to actually do it - it is almost impossible to explain it by mouth. So you need to contact me and start booking in for my print classes next summer! I am not sure what I will be offering right now, but most probably, drypoint, linocut and collograph (I am not even going to go into explanation of that one right now). Those are all simple kitchen table methods of printing, which will be necessary because I will not be set up with a printing press by that time. The results though can be far from the kitchen table, but that, of course, is up to you!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Great Plantain Hunt

My mother hated plantains.
She kept a beautiful lawn in both the gardens that she made while I was living at home.
She spent a lot of time digging out the plantains that invaded those lawns, as well as her flower beds. She always said that it was the best method for getting rid of them, but you had to twist the root out too, to stop them growing back.

Mind you she spent an equal amount of time repairing the lawn after we had torn around it at breakneck speed either on bikes, trikes or go-kart. We were very rough tomboy children.

I have memories of her raking over the bald spots, erecting little barriers made of twigs with string strung between them and then sprinkling the little grass seeds, which resembled elongated, dry and sandy coloured grains of rice. From inside the house she would keep an eagle-eyed look-out and when she saw the sparrows or crows swooping in for dinner she would rush out waving her arms and calling "shoo, shoo!" to scare the scavengers away. Ordinarily she welcomed all wildlife to her garden (except aphids!) but at vulnerable times like that she protected her little charges with a determined vigour.

As I have mentioned aphids I also recollect her approach to getting rid of these little creatures. She was by chance a very organic gardener - it was not a religious zeal that drove her but, like others of her generation, it was economic as much as anything else. It was also the way she had learned how to do things. So greenfly, whitefly and blackfly were all squished off the leaves by hand. As it turns out though, this is also the most effective method of doing it.

Personally, over the years, I have tried various 'labour saving' alternatives including insecticides and the more organic soapy water techniques, but no matter how you slice it and dice it at the end of the day it is impossible to get the liquids to go everywhere and kill everything so there is always an element of just squishing!

And now, as I am recollecting my murderous mother ;-), I also recall her cleaning out the dustbin after its weekly collection. She would tip it over and as the remaining maggots squirmed out of it she would squish them on the concrete path outside the back door with the back of her trowel before hosing out the galvanised bin. I think slugs, found beneath dark and fleshy leaves, suffered a similar fate at her hands.

I do not wish to leave you with a terrible, ruthless image of my mother though. In fact she was a gentle person who took care of all sorts of helpless creatures and damaged children and adults alike. I won't say that she always saw the good in people, but if someone was in need, she would never turn them away. She made friends wherever she went, even some of our (the children) friends ended up being her friends too - so much so that they used to come and visit her long after we had all left home. I think they also liked her because she was a very interesting person too, she was incredibly well read and kept up on all current events and politics. She and my father used to have very lively 'discussions' at the dinner table which often resulted in great fury from my fiery-tempered father. Her calm, yet determined debating sometimes drove him to the brink of sanity and then the plates would start to fly too!

Looking back - I learned an awful lot at her elbow which has stuck with me forever. Some of the lessons - such as her debating technique took longer to master as I had unfortunately inherited my father's hot temper. But one lesson which I had long not thought of came back to me the day that I noticed my lawn was fast becoming a sea of flat, dark green leaves, which boasted turret-like flower stems at the centre. In fact it was not very much of a lawn at all, more of a home for retired Plantains. So I went to the shed and bypassing the very old and faded bottle of weedkiller (left there from a bygone era) I reached for my trusty trowel....